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Free Study Guide for Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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In classical Greek tradition, it was considered important to maintain the unity of time, space and action, which meant that the plot did not alter in time but followed a linear pattern. The place of action did not change with the development of the plot and neither did the action alter. If the action of the play was serious and tragic, comic interludes were excluded from the play.

Plot in the Greek tragedies had a set pattern, which can be seen in Oedipus Rex. The play opens with a Prologue, which is in the form of a dialogue. In the Prologue, the protagonist lays down the statement for the rest of the play to proceed. In Oedipus Rex, in the prologue all the necessary details about Laius’ murder are presented. These work as premises for the further development of the plot. The prologue ends with a choral ode called the Parodos.

The prologue is followed by the Exposition. In this act the protagonist repeats the statement from the prologue. This statement is developed and explained by him in the speech. With the introduction of a new character, the plot takes on a different turn. In Oedipus Rex, the old prophet Tiresias’ arrival and his revelations about Oedipus’ birth and life serve this purpose. This is where the conflict in the plot is presented. Besides, other important themes such as the importance of prophecies and qualities of an ideal ruler are introduced in this act.

The Exposition also ends with an ode called Stasimon I. The Exposition is followed by the second Act. This marks the rise of action in the play. This is the longest act and is divided into three scenes: the confrontation between Oedipus and Creon, the intervention and persuasion by Jocasta and the dialogue between Oedipus and Jocasta. This is an act of high drama as the action reaches its peak. The climax is suspended as this act ends with a choral ode, the second Stasimon.

The third act or the climax follows the second act of high action. In this act all the questions raised in the previous act find a solution. The mystery of Oedipus’ dreadful life is solved and the play reaches its climax and the tragedy is complete. In the fourth Stasimon, which ends the third scene, the chorus comments on Oedipus’ fate.

The final scene or the Exodus of the play presents the outcome of the tragedy. The queen commits suicide and the devastated Oedipus blinds himself. These acts are not performed onstage but narrated by a messenger. Finally the blind Oedipus appears on the stage and a long lyrical dialogue between the chorus and Oedipus is presented.

This dialogue is a lament on the situation. After this final Lament song, a long dialogue between Oedipus and Creon marks the conclusion of the play. Oedipus leaves as a broken man. All eyes are now resting on Creon and the citizens of Thebes hope to see an ideal king in him.

Thus, the entire plot of the play is divided into the prologue, exposition, the rise in action, climax and exodus.

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